May 14, Sunday
Depart from New York JFK at 7:00 p.m. on British Airways FL 174. (Patsy & Dale arrive Sofia at 1:40.)
Day 1: May 15 – Monday
Arrive LHR at 7:05 a.m.. Depart from London LHR at 8:35 a.m. on British Airways FL 890, arrive Sofia at 1:40 p.m. (Larry arrives at 1:25, Rick and Dale at 4:15.) Upon arrival in Sofia we will be met by a representative from Lyuba Tours who will take us to our centrally located hotel. Free time to shower, nap, do whatever to start recovery after the long trip to Bulgaria. Dinner at “Beyond the Alley, Behind the Cupboard” restaurant. Overnight at Grand Hotel Sofia (+359 2 811 07 70.)
Day 2: May 16 – Tuesday
Buffet breakfast at the hotel (and every morning on tour).9:00 a.m. Milena & Lyuba will lead us on a walking tour of center of Sofia including the Rotunda St. George (4th Century -the oldest building in Sofia), the archeological remains of the Eastern Gate of the Roman wall (2nd to 9th century) and visit the Archaeological Museum. Lunch independent. (Our guide will make restaurant recommendations.) After lunch, coach transfer to Boyana Residential area (about 30 min. drive) to visit the famous church with frescoes from 13th century, one of extraordinary art history monuments in Bulgaria, On the way back to the hotel we will make a short stop at the Flea Market of Antiques, St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Basilica of St. Sofia (6th century). Return to the hotel for some free time before dinner. 8.00pm- Dinner at restaurant with folklore program. Overnight at Grand Hotel Sofia.
Day 3: May 17 -Wednesday
9:00 a.m. Depart Sofia with Desislav, our guide for the rest of the tour, and drive to the Rila monastery (2 hours), considered the living heart of Bulgaria. The monastery is included in the World Heritage List of Monuments of UNESCO. We will visit the richly painted church of the mid 19th century, the old kitchen, and the museum containing the monastery treasures. Lunch independent near the monastery. In the afternoon we will proceed to the town of Bansko, today one of the famous ski resorts of Bulgaria. It was for centuries a prosperous merchant town, trading in cotton, tobacco, silk, and wine between Northern Greece to Central Europe. Parts of the Old Town still exist where there are numerous taverns and fortress-like houses. Dinner at Dedo Pene Inn with music, traditional cuisine, and home-made wine. Overnight in Hotel Kempinski – Bansko (+359-7443 8888).
Day 4: May 18 – Thursday
Morning walking tour along the cobblestone streets of Bansko, including a visit to the Master Velyan house (over 200 years old ). We will then drive to Pirin Mountain for a picnic lunch prepared by the “Bansko Grannies.” These elderly ladies will prepare traditional regional cuisine for our picnic table—and later entertain us! After our picnic, the fit among us can take an optional hike to the upper part of the mountain with a local guide. Return to Bansko for free evening. For dinner (independent), there are many excellent pubs in Bansko. Overnight in Hotel Kempinski – Bansko.
Day 5: May 19 – Friday
8:00 a.m. departure for Plovdiv (5 hours) via the town of Velingrad and the beautiful mountain pass of Belitsa and Yakouruda. We will pass by the Muslim villages with Bulgarian Pomacs – a group of people who are Muslims, but speak the Bulgarian language. They converted to the Muslim religion during the Ottoman period. We should arrive in Plovdiv a little after noon. Lunch independent and free time for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner at selected restaurant in Plovdiv. Overnight in Hotel Trimontsium – Plovdiv (+359 32 605 000).
Day 6: May 20 – Saturday
9:00a.m. Morning sightseeing of Old Town of Plovdiv with early and mid-19th century houses, representing traditional Bulgarian Revival architecture and decorations. We will also visit the Roman theater that dates from the 2nd century AD. It is one of the best-preserved Roman theaters in Europe. The churches of Old town are famous for their carved iconostasis and beautiful icons. We will be able to visit some of them during the tour. Free time at the numerous antique shops along the cobbled streets. Depart to the Bachkovo monastery (11th century)–the second biggest in Bulgaria, famous for its amazing frescoes from the 17, 18, and 19th centuries. En route we will stop for lunch in the private home of Efrosina, a Bulgarian who escaped with her husband during the Communist times, and has now return to the family home. Return drive to Plovdiv (about 45 minutes) Evening free. Overnight in Hotel Trimontsium -Princess – Plovdiv.
Day 7: May 21- Sunday
7:30 departure to visit the unique Rose Valley at time of blooming. Brought from Persia more than 300 years ago, the oil producing rose bushes flourished in the splendid soil of the Tundja River Valley between Stara Planina and Sredna Gora Mountains in Bulgaria. Besides seeing the fields, we will visit the Rose Institute with lecture as to why rose oil has been so unique and important. Lunch (independent) in the area. In the afternoon we will stop at Kazanluk Tomb with paintings from the end of the 4th century BC. They are the best-preserved Hellenistic paintings in the Balkans. We will have the opportunity to visit one or two newly excavated Thracian tombs in the area. 4.30pm- drive back to Plovdiv. Dinner at selected restaurant in Plovdiv. Overnight at Hotel Trimontsium – Princess – Plovdiv.
Day 8: May 22- Monday
Transfer to Varna with stop at the colorful 2500-year old museum town of Nessebar. Established as a Greek colony, it became an important Byzantine and Bulgarian religious center with many churches dating between the 11th and 15th centuries. It was also a famous fishing and merchant town on the Black Sea. Most of the wooden houses, which today are architectural monuments, were built during the 18th and 19th centuries. Currently, Nessebar is a favorite place of artists and writers. The town is included in the UNESCO List of the World Cultural Heritage. After lunch (independent), our walking tour will include a visit to the church of St. Stephen (15- 18th C. frescoes), and other Medieval churches, famous for their rich decoration with bricks, pottery and stones. You will have some free time for shopping in Nessebar. 5:00pm – Continue drive to Varna (about 2 hours). Accommodation in a beach hotel at the resort north of Varna. Dinner in a nearby restaurant. Overnight in Riviera Beach Hotel, Varna. (+359 52 38 6 815).
Day 9: May 23- Tuesday
9:30 departure for the Varna Archaeological museum where we will see the earliest golden treasures of the human civilization dated from 5.000 years BC. We will then have free time in the pedestrian part of the town for shopping, explorations and lunch (independent). Return to our beach hotel for some free time. Dinner at Moraska Sirena in Varna. Overnight in Riviera Beach Hotel, Varna.
Day 10: May 24- Wednesday
National Holiday: Day of St. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who created the Slavic alphabet. 10:00 am departure for leisurely drive north up the coast to Cape Kaliakra. Lunch (independent) somewhere along the way. Return in the afternoon to our beach hotel for some more free time. Dinner plans TBA. Overnight in Riviera Beach Hotel, Varna.
Day 11: May 25- Thursday
Departure for the town of Veliko Turnovo (about 240 km) En route, we will go to Sboryanovo with the famous Sveshtari Thracian Tomb (4th Century BC), and the Holy Place of Demir Baba (17th century – Muslim sect of Alevi’s), built over a former Thracian sanctuary. Picnic lunch in the area of Sveshtari, featuring traditional Muslim dishes of the region. Late in the afternoon we will proceed to the town of Veliko Turnovo, where we will stay for the next two nights. We should arrive around 7:30 p.m. Accommodation in Hotel Arbanassi Palace, the former residence of the Prime Minister during the Communist era. Dinner at the residence, followed by a Sound and Light show in Veliko Turnovo. Overnight in Arbanassi Palace Residence- Veliko Turnovo (+359 62 630 176).
Day 12: May 26- Friday
Morning visit to the Church of Nativity from the 16th century with more than 3000 images from the Old and New Testament. We will then continue to the 250 year old House-museum of Constantseliev, which represents the traditional style of life of rich merchant families in the 18th century. Next, we will drive to Veliko Turnovo to the Samovodene Arts and Crafts Market Street in the old part of Turnovo. Free time for shopping and lunch (optional) in the town. Our bus will then bring us to the remains of the Tsarevets, where was situated the Royal and Patriarchal palaces of the Mediaeval capital of the II Bulgarian Kingdom. Return to Arbanassi Palace for rest. 7.30pm – Drive to a convent near the town for dinner and wine tasting from the nuns’ excellent wine cellar. The convent is about a 30-minute drive from Veliko Turnovo. Return to the hotel for Overnight in Arbanassi Palace – Veliko Turnovo.
Day 13: May 27-Saturday
Morning departure for Sofia airport (220 kms). Depart Sofia at 2:35P on British Airways FLT:891, arrive London LHR at 3:55P. Depart London LHR on British Airways FLT:179 at 6:05P, arrive New York JFK at 8:45P. Take shuttle to nearby Hampton Inn New York JFK Hotel.
Day 14: May 28-Sunday
After breakfast, take shuttle back to JFK for your return flight from JFK. Or stay on the East cost for a while and then fly home later.
Mary Rose Walls
Sara & Charlie Lewis
Jay & Evelyn Rogers
Sue Edwards & Jim Ernest
Ken & Julie Ortolon
Dale & Patsy Meyers
Dale Fleishman & Ron Jenkins
Dale Matlock & Rick Herold
Carrol Ann Smith & Donita Lincoln